Arlington teen talks toilets to win National History Day contest

The Macnee family of Arlington endured months of potty humor before their youngest child won a top national prize for a speech about toilets.

But 13-year-old Ashlynne Macnee is the first to remind us that beating out more than a half-million students in the National History Day contest is no joke.

"It still hasn't hit me that I won best in the nation," Macnee said.

Macnee, who in the fall will be a freshman at Christian Life Preparatory School in Fort Worth, won $1,000 for her speech, "The Innovation That Brings Global Relief," about the evolution of indoor plumbing. She placed first in the Individual Performance category in the Kenneth E. Behring National History Day contest, held at the University of Maryland from June 13-17.

Macnee began work on the project in November. She chose the topic when interviewing a city planner about sewage systems for another project she was working on.

"He said indoor plumbing was the most fascinating innovation he'd ever known," she said.

After doing some research, she agreed. Her project included the construction, with only minimal help, of a life-size model outhouse, which she says was "an ordeal." The three-sided wooden structure took four hours to complete. Her presentation opened with her, in character, popping her head out of the outhouse and saying, "I wish I had an indoor toilet."

Thomas Crapper was an English toilet manufacturer in the mid- to late 1800s who popularized a design much like the modern toilet, made of porcelain with a tank, and many people assume that the word crap was taken from his name. However, the word predates Crapper, originating from Middle English.

Macnee seems to have a natural fascination with history. Her family has participated in the program for three years now, said her mother, Teresa Macnee. Older siblings Garrett and Rayanne placed third at state this year in the category of Senior Group Documentary for grades 9-12. Garrett went to nationals in 2008, Rayanne in 2009.

"We're enormous fans of National History Day." Teresa Macnee said. "It's a huge national program, but there doesn't seem to be much knowledge of it in Texas." Ashlynne Macnee heartily seconds her mother's endorsement: "I did a lot of research and a lot of practice and a lot of work, but it really is worth it, even if you only make it to state."

The contest has been held annually since 1980 at the University of Maryland, said Stephen Cure, coordinator of the Texas program. This year, 67 students from Texas made it to the finals. This year's theme was innovation, challenging students to explore revolutionary changes in their historical context.

About 2,400 students from the United States, American Samoa, Guam, and international and Defense Department schools in Europe compete at the national level each year.

Macnee is a talkative girl who says she is interested in studying American history in college.

Looking back on her work, she said: "It definitely took a lot of time. ... It's not all just fun and games. It's a national competition."

HILARY COLLINS, 817-390-7416